Volume > Issue > The New Right & the Pro-life Movement: How Solid is the Marriage?

The New Right & the Pro-life Movement: How Solid is the Marriage?


By Stephen Settle | July August 1986
Stephen Settle is a Milwaukee writer. Copyright © Stephen Settle 1986.

Abortion — “the issue that will not go away,” Newsweek once called it. This comment has proved accurate both as socio-medical fact and political forecast. Today abortion remains the most com­monly performed surgical procedure in the United States. On any given day American women submit to over 4,500 “pregnancy terminations.”

Yet far from gaining the wholesale acceptance that many feared and others may have hoped it would, abortion now bothers more Americans than at any time in the 13 years since its Supreme Court legalization under Roe v. Wade. Indeed, in the words of one reporter, it is an issue with the defi­nite potential to “tear us apart” as a nation. At the same time, much of the media interest in abortion has focused not on abortion per se, but rather on the partisan positions in the public debate. Particu­lar attention has been given to the role of the New Right in promoting a crusade against legalized abortion, and the complementary support furnish­ed to the New Right by abortion foes.

While it is true that anti-abortion activists have often made zealous campaign workers for the New Right, it is also increasingly evident that the New Right prospers by keeping the abortion issue “alive,” though predominantly dormant, until elec­tion time. Abortion persists as an unresolved politi­cal controversy, and one may wonder to what de­gree this uncertain situation is attributable to hyperpartisanship, opportunism, and neglect in the New Right’s cultivation of the issue.

Although disdainful of efforts by Joseph Car­dinal Bernardin and the U.S. Catholic bishops to make the anti-abortion message part of a seamless garment ethic, linked with opposition to other anti-life forces such as nuclear weapons, New Right id­eologues have dictated their own brand of “link­age” to the anti-abortion movement. Thus, pro-lifers have witnessed the battle cries “pro-life” and “pro-­family” adulterated and usurped for the purposes of championing everything from various weapon systems to assorted schemes for cutting domestic government spending. The result: an ideological patchwork perhaps better suited to the political ambitions of the New Right than to the right-to-life.

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